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Tech Report: Oakley’s Radar — you’ll see ’em coming

Oakley has produced its incredibly popular M-Frame sunglasses for 17 years, and while the design has been tweaked over its long lifetime, the M-Frame has always held onto its distinct shape and reputation as one of the best functioning sport shields on the market. Now, the M-Frame has a little brother — Radar, which even in its infancy seems to be reaching for grandeur. Look for Oakley’s newest sports shield on riders from Team CSC, T-Mobile and Slipstream-Chipotle during 2007. “In the beginning we sponsored 7-Eleven, then Motorola, Saturn, Rabobank, ONCE and Phonak,” said Steve Blick,

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By Matt Pacocha

The Radar Black Hero

The Radar Black Hero

Photo: courtesy Oakley

Oakley has produced its incredibly popular M-Frame sunglasses for 17 years, and while the design has been tweaked over its long lifetime, the M-Frame has always held onto its distinct shape and reputation as one of the best functioning sport shields on the market.

Now, the M-Frame has a little brother — Radar, which even in its infancy seems to be reaching for grandeur. Look for Oakley’s newest sports shield on riders from Team CSC, T-Mobile and Slipstream-Chipotle during 2007.

“In the beginning we sponsored 7-Eleven, then Motorola, Saturn, Rabobank, ONCE and Phonak,” said Steve Blick, Oakley’s sports marketing go-to for athletes. “In the spirit of the new product we’ve identified three teams for three different reasons.

“We’ve got Slipstream, who’s got a great group of emerging U.S. talent. Then we’ve got T-Mobile, who’s sending a great message on anti-doping. It’s clear that these guys want to bring a cool image to the sport. And then we’ve got the number one ProTour team… CSC. Hands down those guys have got their game together. So we have three totally different teams that are going to be using our new products this year.”

Oakley compiled a media kit including a Sharpie permanent marker and a lens blank to illustrate the prowess of ...

Oakley compiled a media kit including a Sharpie permanent marker and a lens blank to illustrate the prowess of …

Photo: Matt Pacocha

Oakley will continue to supports its established roster of individual athletes who, as Blick says, “move the needle.”

For sport, and especially cycling, shield-type glasses rein supreme. If you’re looking for pure performance in any brand’s sport glasses, shields have distinct advantages over rimmed models. The greatest advantage is a superior field of view, something of the utmost importance when on the bike. A shield gives you a better awareness and affords an unobstructed view down and when looking back over a shoulder.

And while Radar draws heavily from Oakley’s bells-and-whistles box, it’s more than just another sports shield.

The real story is a new lens coating. Radar and Flak Jacket, a new dual-lens design, debut Oakley’s hydrophobic lens technology. The new lens repels water and oil, and prevents both from leaving streaks on the lens’s surface. It’s like having a permanent Rain X car windscreen coating on your sunglass lens.

“It’s the best of what we do, but it doesn’t devalue our other products. We’re just making sure that we’re doing something that is going to help the athletes get to their goals,” said Blick. “Now, it’s lenses that all you have to do is wipe your fingers over it in the rain and they go clear — they’re not going to smudge up if you wipe them off. It’s a hard-coat barrier between all of the elements — water, sweat, whatever.”

So far our sample Radar substantiates Oakley’s claims. Of the three lens shapes, Range is the largest. It’s shaped like the old M-Frame Heater. The giant lens brings back memories of Andy Hampsten on the snowy Gavia Pass with half his face covered in Factory Pilot Eyeshade.

The Pitch and Path lens shapes are more manageable for riders with smaller heads, while still offering adequate protection. Path would be my personal pick.

As for the hydrophobic coating, it seems to work splendidly. After cycling and cross-country skiing for more than a month in the new shades, it’s apparent the coating does make a difference in a rider’s quest for optical clarity. So far I’m sold. However, it’s still too early to early to comment on the coating’s durability.

When we wiped the lens the ink came off the coated side very easily. Not the case with the uncoated side. Even ...

When we wiped the lens the ink came off the coated side very easily. Not the case with the uncoated side. Even …

Photo: Matt Pacocha

Radar’s price starts at $155 and climbs to $235, depending upon lens features. The usual Oakley touches include nose pieces (in two sizes); earstocks made from Unobtainium that increase grip when wet; a Plutonite lens that blocks 100 percent of UV radiation and shotgun blasts; High Definition Optics, which provide a distortion-free view over the entire curvature of the lens; and the option of three lens shapes to best fit face sizes and applications. Radar’s lenses are also replaceable, available with venting in 13 different tints, plus iridium coatings and polarization.

Alas, Radar lenses are not interchangeable with M-Frame, which will not be discontinued. But if Radar’s new hydrophobic technology has sparked your interest, and you’re not quite ready to give up your M-Frames, Oakley is working on a spray-on hydrophobic-coating kit.

“It’s a two-step process with a wipe-on cloth that works for three lenses to prep and clean them, then there is a spray on coating that forms a hydrophobic, ‘oleophobic’ barrier,” said Blick. “It’s something that you can put on any pair of our glasses. That will come out later, in the early summer.”

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